My husband and I share two daughters who were born with distinctively different personalities. I can see how our parenting is shaping and guiding their natural bents but, in the end, our girls are just plain different. I enjoy their uniqueness and even more, I stand in awe of how one gospel applies so perfectly to the instruction and encouragement of two very different children.
Our eldest daughter is sensitive. I think of her as a ripe and tender fruit, sweet to the core and easily bruised. Her sweetness is seen in her care and concern for others. She rejoices with those who rejoice and she weeps with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Her world stops at the sound of another’s cry and she’s unsettled by the news of pain. She likes people and is excited to see them happy. She loves to laugh with others.
Our tender girl is sweet and extremely cautious. She guards herself from emotional and physical pain. She’ll close her eyes and cover her ears at a suspenseful part of The Cat in the Hat. She stays away from the “Big Slide” at the playground. The fear of pain makes her careful. That caution is perhaps seen in her desire to please her parents. She is quick to listen and hates our disapproval. We love our watchful, perfectionist, sympathetic girl!
Our youngest is strong-willed. She is confident in her own opinions. She’s not easily swayed. She struggles against barriers to her goals and does not suffer from the temptation to please.
Our girl’s determination is strengthen by her cleverness. She is a quick study whose knowledge seems to surpass her age. She is good friends with her big sister and learns much from her. But when it comes to risk, she finds her own path. She doesn’t have her sister’s caution and is happy to tackle the “Big Slide.” Our youngest is daring, resolute and extremely charming. We adore her!
My girls are very different...yet each reflects her mother in certain ways: I’m a perfectionist like my eldest; a “rule-keeper” who likes to please others by my works. My natural inclination is to act like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). I pride myself by what I do for the Father and struggle to empathize with those who stumble. People like me thrive in rule-centric settings and we can reduce Christianity to approved behaviors and morality. I’m tempted to find security in my own “goodness” rather than in Christ’s.
But I’m also like my youngest daughter. My heart, by nature, prefers its own way. I don’t have the nerve to live recklessly so I give the appearance of conformity even as my heart journeys to a “far country” (Luke 15:13).
All sinners need Jesus: the legalistic and the lawless. We see this in the Luke 15 parable; it ends with the father appealing to both sons: two brothers, different personalities, the same gospel.
Our homes are filled with children of various leanings. There are sweet-to-the-core obedient types and spunky youngsters who like to test the waters. Both need Jesus. Both need the gospel. And I need God’s grace to help me give good news to my children (especially when I’m prone to forget it myself).
If my husband and I reduce the gospel to mere obedience, we tempt our natural “law-keeper” with the false gospel of moralism. She could easily “act” like a church-going Christian child without true repentance of sin and trust in Christ’s active obedience on her behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our prayer for her is salvation, not just "good behavior." Saving faith in Christ is far more than being “a good person” who treats others well and believes that there’s a God.
On the other hand, if we excuse (and even praise) the bold autonomy of our youngest as “budding leadership,” we dangle the false gospel of self-fulfillment in her eyes and encourage a “best life now” mentality. We love her determination and cleverness...but we want more for her than that. Our prayer is for godly wisdom and boldness that comes from the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).
The truth is that everyone in our family is a sinner (Romans 3:23). And the Father demonstrates His hatred of our sins when He judges Christ on the cross on our behalf (Isaiah 53:10; 1 Peter 3:18). The gospel is good news for seeming law-keepers and lawbreakers alike! Our Judge as become your Justifier (Romans 3:26)! I point my daughters to Christ because He is the sinner's substitute in righteousness and in judgement. Resting in Christ is better than our self-righteousness or our self-rule.